The new year got off to a bang when the Mad as Hell Mothers-in-Law occupied Lindsey Gardens to protest against Avenues residents who don’t want accessory dwelling units, known in the trade as “mother-in-law” apartments, to despoil their neighborhood. There was a festive atmosphere in steeply sloped 11th Avenue Park as hundreds of mothers-in-law set up tents, chanted slogans, waved placards and boiled hotdogs on makeshift camping stoves.
The Deep End scored an exclusive interview with Myrtle Huffnagel, the attractive 78-year-old firebrand who is the chief spokesmother-in-law for the Mad as Hell Mothers-in-Law. We sat down with Mrs. Huffnagel in her homey tent on the highest elevation in Lindsey Gardens. The surprisingly limber (“I take yoga three days a week”) mother-in-law sat cross-legged on a bright orange mat just a few feet away from a propane space heater. Dispensing with pleasantries, Mrs. Huffnagel, or “Ma,” as everyone calls her, launched right into the conversation.
“Ma” Huffnagel: We’re all in this together, so we really don’t have a particular leader, or even council of leaders. The gals asked me to talk to the media only because I’ve got the loudest voice. In fact, my final daughter-in-law thought I sounded like Harvey Feirstein, who coincidently sometimes plays a mother-in-law on TV.
Deep End: So, tell—
M.H.: Please help yourself to the cheese dip, I just made it this morning, you can’t even tell it’s from a mix, at least I think so, though my second daughter-in-law couldn’t even make a decent dip if she had the greatest chef in the world looking over her shoulder. I was relieved, frankly, when my son divorced her, and don’t believe a word she says about her divorcing him, by the way, she didn’t appreciate all I did for them, and I wouldn’t in the least be surprised if she, or one of my other former daughters-in-law, were behind this movement to stop mother-in-law apartments in residential districts like the Avenues or down there in Liberty Wells, accusing us mothers-in-law of having wild parties or polluting the neighborhood, can you believe it, one of the mother-in-law haters was quoted in the paper as saying letting mothers-in-law have apartments in their kids’ houses would be an abomination, can you believe it, apparently because the Mormon pioneers settled in that neighborhood in some area called First Encampment Park, what an irony that is, everyone knows how much Mormons loved their mothers-in-law, and when I say mothers-in-law plural I mean it literally, what with kids having several mothers and mothers-in-law—
M.H.: And all those mothers-in-law—help yourself to some of that dip, can I put some on a cracker for you? Those pioneer mothers-in-law knew how important it was to have a mother-in-law apartment in the house, preferably right on the main floor, not in the basement, which I hate, being stuck down there, like the time I fell off a chair when I was trying to get my ear up to the vent to hear my fourth daughter-in-law give my boy heck for letting me pick out his clothes, why should she care, with her having no taste at all not only in the clothes department but furniture and all your basic home furnishings, and besides, I knew exactly how he likes to have his shirts and underwear folded, and socks especially, not all balled up like she did it, but folded just at the top, about two inches on the elastic part holding the socks neatly together so they don’t get all mixed up—
D.E.: Could we—
M.H.: But not just socks! My fifth daughter-in-law got along real good until I volunteered, in a real nice voice, I’ll have you know, that it wouldn’t be any trouble for me to get my boy’s shower going in the morning with just the right temperature, so he wouldn’t burn himself, and I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she somehow brainwashed my boy against me and pretty much kidnapped him and took him out to Oklahoma leaving me in that crummy little mother-in-law apartment where I woke up one morning to find out that they had just sold the house from under me, or over me, since I was in that noisy room in the basement next to the furnace, not leaving any kind of forwarding address, so here I am after I got the galosh from the family that moved in with their own mother-in-law, and—
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.